Thomas Wolfe Was Right – Probably

Posted by Pat on July 4, 2021 in Travel |

There is the old adage that “You can’t go home again.” It comes from Thomas Wolfe’s 1934 novel of the same name. 

There are many reasons why this adage probably is true. “Home” will never be the same after an absence of decades. In the off-chance of becoming overly nostalgic, one should visit their old childhood stomping grounds; but at the same time, childhood memories can be shattered by the reality of how things have changed.

I briefly visited my childhood home, drove its roads and observed its changes. It was not pretty. 

Garage, log house, chicken house and brother feeding mink about 1950. Mink numbered about 1200 by 1970.

I was raised on a mink ranch in rural northwest Indiana about 35 miles from Chicago’s Loop. I had 10 acres, a creek, barn and fields to explore. My house, built around 1938, was of logs, which was really cool because they were real logs. Over the years, the neighborhood changed little. Our small town, about two miles away, was made up of 2 bars, a library, grocery store, post office, small park and maybe 2,600 people.  Sadly, “racial diversity” meant Catholics and the occasional Polish person. U.S. Routes 30 and 41 intersected there, thus giving the town its nickname of “Crossroads of America.” 

Since, the population has exploded, now with almost 30,000; roads, shopping and homes have multiplied like rabbits; and some aspects of the region are just plain tragic.

Traffic is horrendous. The only relief comes from the replacement of the old Pennsylvania RR tracks with a 5-mile-long Greenway Path. Rustling fields of corn are now massive expanses of green lawns with the obliquitous riding lawn mower. I’m sure the mosquitoes are still there but thankfully they aren’t spraying the ditches with DDT any longer. 

I remember the old fire station, its sirens at noon on Saturdays and warning of tornadoes at other times. It had a little store that I visited on weekends for my Necco Wafer fix. The station is empty but still standing. Homes, once on large acreages, now are sold off to developers who have added cul-de-sacs and built subdivisions where deer and all sorts of mammals hung out and creeks once flowed. Where we used to catch tadpoles and turtles and my brother trapped for muskrat and hunted for pheasant exists no more. 

My favorite restaurant is still there but surround by industrial parks, traffic and brand hotels. The old kiddie amusement park is long gone, replaced by commercialism, apartment buildings and traffic congestion. I used to be able to ride my bicycle there; now such an attempt would be a death sentence. 

But the worst was home. Our solid log cabin is approaching its “end of life.” The chicken house, where we ground and mixed the mink food, is gone. It was a great site to visit at night to shoot at rats. I had a plethora of pets buried around it. The garage is no surprise as it was a bit sway-backed when I lived there 50 years ago. The 5-ton meat freezer in back still stands, but then it is made of cinderblock. It will take a big push to knock that thing down. My brother and I were once stuck inside for an hour, rescued by my sister who rarely wanted to be outside in the yard. Will memories be destroyed with the building?

My dad and house in 1956

Our home is begging for love and care. I don’t think it is going to get it. The back porch, which I remember my dad building, has caved in and I wonder how people safely get out the back. And in the basement, the one my father dug out with a shovel and pail after he retired, the water continues to back up if the pump stops working, which it managed to do often. The same basement where we did the laundry, pumped the rusty iron-rich well water, housed our huge furnace and our pots of tadpoles and snakes. A hole in the ground for some, a kid’s fun room for others, a nightmare for my sister who refused to do the laundry unless the snakes were removed. 

Money Magazine named my hometown one of the “100 Best Places to Live in the U.S” in 2007. Many people took this to heart. This kid is just saddened for the loss. 

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